NORTH Shields FC had all but forgotten just what it was like to lose a Northern League game.
Well they received a stark reminder on Saturday as their Cumbrian visitors staged a smash and grab raid and travelled back to the west coast after denting the Shieldmen’s proud 20-match unbeaten run which stretched back to mid September.
Not that there should be too much surprise at this result for Whitehaven certainly enjoy their visits to North Shields, having now won on all four occasions since they were admitted to the Northern League.
They have netted 13 times after a 2-5 verdict in 2008-09, and 1-2 then 4-5 in last season’s Ernest Armstrong Trophy semi-final.
Graeme Lilly’s 22nd minute strike following a corner separated the sides this time and represented virtually the visitors only direct attempt on goal all afternoon.
The Robins started brightly enough and should have gone ahead, but a combination of a heavy pitch and some determined defending stifled the Shieldsmen’s normal fluency and took its toll as the clock ticked over.
Shields had made sterling efforts to make their pitch playable with other local games falling by the wayside and were rewarded by a larger than average attendance, the majority of whom however were to head for home disappointed.
The hosts plainly were not at their best but still conjured up a fair amount of openings, particularly in the first period, though perhaps it could be claimed they tried to play too much football to suit the conditions.
Shields were lacking 14-goal James Luccock and ten-goal Andy Hay through injury and both were sorely missed, but on the plus side Andy Wright and Joe Elliott were able to play a part as second-half substitutes after lengthy spells on the sidelines.
Keith Douglas was thwarted by keeper Brian Miller and an offside flag after he latched on to a great ball from Ryan Page, then Ross Atkinson’s header from a Mark Rasmussen corner was tipped behind by the keeper.
A second flag kick was frantically scrambled clear and a third saw Femi Akinbolu nod just over the bar.
With Robbie Livermore running the midfield Shields were well on top at this stage as Rasmussen and Douglas rifled over.
The Tynesiders were stunned midway through the half but it appeared only a matter of time before they would be back on level terms.
Livermore and Michael Pattison both got to the by-line but their centres, just begging for a touch, couldn’t be put away whilst Miller saved low down from Page, who was later released by Danny Patterson but the ball took a bobble as he lined up his shot and his effort sailed wide.
The expected second half onslaught failed to materialise as the visitors grew in confidence, though they had to rely upon some contentious decisions from the officials to maintain their advantage.
Firstly Patterson ran past a defender to beat the keeper with Douglas ready to shepherd the ball over the line but an absurd offside flag caused irritation.
Centre half Kevin Law was fortunate to stay on the field after a two-footed challenge on Phil Cartwright then was allowed to get away with a handball that would have put Douglas in the clear.
Whitehaven knew it was to be their day when the ground erupted in a penalty appeal after Akinbolu was upended in the box.
No spot kick was awarded and the Cumbrian celebrations at the final whistle said it all, proving just what it felt like to grab the Robins scalp and become, after Newton Aycliffe and Whickham, only the third team to do so in the league this season.
North Shields: Pickering, Hall, Patterson, Livermore (Wright 55), Akinbolu, Atkinson, Rasmussen, Cartwright (Elliott 66), Pattison (Bowman 70), Douglas, Page. Subs not used: Harris, M Robinson.
Anthony Woodhouse’s lads will, no doubt, be itching for revenge when the two sides meet again at Whitehaven on Tuesday, April 5.
After this setback the Robins’ home fixture with second-top Guisborough Town on Saturday takes on even greater significance with the Shieldsmen now eight points behind the North Yorkshire outfit having four games in hand.
Kick-off at the Daren Persson Stadium at Ralph Gardner Park is 3pm.
On Tuesday, March 22, Shields visit Whickham in the quarter-final of the Ernest Armstrong Trophy at 7.30pm.